For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved the water, so naturally I couldn’t wait to give my first baby her first bath. I eagerly waited for her umbilical cord stump to be shed, so I could stop giving her sponge baths and start giving her tub baths, and we could experience her first aquatic milestone together. Sure, my kid was less than 2 weeks old, but I assumed because I loved the water so much, she would absolutely love it from the get-go, too. I mean, she spent 9 months in amniotic fluid in my womb, which is kinda the same thing as a tub, right?
I had visions of her lying serenely in the tub, looking up at me like all was right in the world, as if to say, “Ah, thanks, mom. You’re really great, and you know exactly what I need right now.” Our bond would be deepened, and my heart would melt even more than it already had.
On the twelfth morning after my daughter's birth, her umbilical cord stump brushed off as I was changing her diaper. “She can have her first bath tonight!” I jubilantly called out to my husband. The day had finally come.
Although I'd heard that giving your baby their first real bath can sometimes be tricky, I felt no need to mentally prepare for what was coming my way. I felt like I knew what I was doing. That’s the thing about parenting for the first time: you feel incredibly confident going into new experiences, even though they often turn out nothing like you'd originally pictured them.
My baby was calm and blissful as I checked the temperature, kneeling down to put her in the sling. I didn't realize that our precious moment of mother and baby euphoria was over before it even began.
That evening, we prepared the bathroom as well as we knew how. The baby tub we’d been given at our baby shower even had a little, pink-and-blue sling for our newborn to lie in, which was covered in happy little whales. That’ll be so comfortable for her!, I thought, getting more and more excited by the minute. I held my daughter in my arms as my husband ran the water in the tub. My baby was calm and blissful as I checked the temperature, kneeling down to put her in the tub. I didn't realize that our precious moment of mother and baby euphoria was over before it even began.
The second my daughter's skin came in contact with the water, she shuddered and cried frantically. “Oh, she’ll like it in a minute,” I said, refusing to believe that my vision for this beautiful, touching moment wouldn't come true. I began to gently stroke her head. "She’ll calm down now," I thought, assuming my gentle touch would snap her back into happy mode. But she wiggled and writhed, and I heard a cry I had never heard before.
My mama instinct to soothe her and quiet her horrific sobs kicked in. Suddenly, the whole bathtime ordeal became a race to get over with, as my husband and I battled her tiny kicks and insanely loud wails. In the end, I'm not sure what we gave her even qualifies as a bath. Sure, there was water everywhere, but was our kid actually clean? That was debatable.
Suddenly, my mind hearkened back to a bit of maternal wisdom I'd received somewhere down the line: I could prop the baby tub up on the kitchen sink. "Next time," I thought, cursing myself for my initial arrogance. "Next time. At least then, my back won't be killing me."
The moment I took my baby out of the bathtub, wrapped her in a towel, and cuddled her on our bed, she was totally fine. I even sobbed my own heart out at that point, because I realized that my daughter wasn't even a newborn anymore, as her umbilical cord stump, the symbol of her connection to my womb, had literally been thrown away. "I just made you suffer through a stupid bath," I said to my daughter as we cuddled on the bed, "but you’re so sweet and lovely, and I just want to savor it all before it’s over."
Looking back, I can totally laugh at my novice ideas of my child’s first bath. I don't know how in the world I ever expected a 12-day-old to enjoy her first bath. (I blame it on Johnson & Johnson TV commercials, or the hormones, or my tendency to harbor grandiose, sentimental ideas about motherhood.) If there's one thing I learned from the experience, however, it's that when it comes to your baby's first milestones, laughing at yourself afterwards is the only way you’re going to be able to get through it.